JAN 1. MARKED AN IMPORTANT TURNING POINT for food retailers in the refrigeration sphere: the date when newly produced or imported R-22, their primary refrigerant over the past 20 years, could no longer be used in new refrigeration equipment, per a new regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The good news is that most retailers were ready for this deadline, according to sources contacted by SN. In fact, most have been ready for some time, having switched to a form of HFC refrigerant for new equipment, remodels and some retrofits of existing equipment. HFCs, unlike R-22, don't erode the ozone layer, though they do contribute to global warming. R-22 now represents only 25% of the refrigerant used in supermarkets, estimated Ted Gartland, partner, Allied Representatives, Buffalo, N.Y., a representative for refrigeration manufacturers.
“We haven't had any new equipment with R-22 for a long time,” said Susan Sollenberger, director of equipment, purchasing, maintenance and energy for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C. “We switched to R-507 five or six years ago, and then to R-407A a couple of years ago.” R-407A has a much lower global warming potential (GWP) than R-507 (2,107 vs. 3,985) and has properties comparable to R-22.
Hy-Vee, which started using R-404A (GWP: 3,922) five years ago for remodels and new stores, is now evaluating R-407A, said Jon Scanlan, director of refrigeration and energy management, Hy-Vee. West Des Moines, Iowa. Last week, Hy-Vee announced that it has joined the EPA's GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, which focuses on using more environmentally friendly refrigerants, reducing leaks and testing new systems. Hy-Vee plans to open a store in 2011 in Fairfield, Iowa, with low- and medium-temperature secondary loop refrigeration systems, said Scanlan.
With federal energy legislation, which could include regulation of HFCs, still a possibility this year, retailers like Scanlan are concerned about the future of HFCs. “We hope our partnership with GreenChill will help with that,” he said. “We plan to pick their brains.” HFCs could end up being phased down the way R-22 has under the Clean Air Act, noted Gartland.
In the meantime, the cost of HFCs has been rising lately, from about $6 per pound to $7 per pound, due to a shortage in raw materials, Gartland said.